The Id, The Ego, and The Superego of Pat Riley

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June 11, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

Pop psychology is an interesting idea that I’m just going to mangle for the sake of this essay.  Originally pop psych is the study of human psychology based upon the experiences of the general public.  This idea originated with Sigmund Freud, especially from his idea of the id, ego, and superego, the three components of the human psyche.  I’m going to purposefully misconstrue the definition of pop psych to mean the influence of pop culture on modern psychology and mental examination.

Because of the time in which we live, we can not only express ourselves through symptoms, descriptions, actions, words, etc, but also via other people.  We now use other people and what they’ve done to define ourselves.  Looking at the Freud’s theory of the id, ego, and superego, which is scientifically unfounded, but thematically sound, I’m going to show you all how someone can be psychologically deduced and maybe even reduced if there’s time for that vis a vie someone else.  From the title of the article, it’s safe to say that my model is going to be Pat Riley.

Yes Pat Riley, Pat the rat, the third greatest NBA coach of all time is the perfect paradigm to examine Freud’s theory because it actually works.  Just as the three components of the human consciousness are all vastly different, so were the three teams coached by Pat Riley.  For those of you unfamiliar with basic psychology and the history of the NBA, I will elucidate myself.[1]

According to world renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the human mind is made up of three parts: the id-the most basic and animalistic part which begs for instant gratification; this is our most base drives-sex, food, defecation, and so on and so forth.  The second part is called the superego which commands morality and cultural literacy taught to us by society.  Think of it as the opposite of the id, something that restrains and keeps the base desires and needs in check.[2]  The final part is the ego, which is more docile than the popular vernacular would lead us to believe.  The role of the ego is to accomplish the goals of the id without coming into conflict with the superego.  Pat Riley’s conscience can be perfectly broken down into these three components with each of his teams serving as paradigms of each component.  Ironically enough, the star player on each team IS the EXACT manifestation of all three parts of Pat Riley’s psyche.

Starting off chronologically, the Showtime Lakers of the ’80s are Pat Riley’s superego.  They are what we (society) wants in a basketball team, a flashy exciting, and winning team with an extremely likeable star in Magic Johnson.  It was easy to like them because they were what we as a society wanted; they were a reflection of our society, they played to our ideals and standards.  None did this more than Magic Johnson with his dynamic ball handling skills, his MVP’s and championship rings, and that million dollar smile of his.  Magic Johnson not only was what we wanted in a star, but he became that, he adapted to our cultural standards.  By playing to society, and what we wanted (a winning, flashy and fun team, unlike the Celtics of the ’80s) the Lakers become Pat Riley’s superego, the side of him that put cultural norms and expectations above that dirty, ugly desire to win.  Win they did, but it was in a way that catered to how we wanted them to do it.

What no one knew at the time though, was Pat Riley’s id was just dying to bust out and beat the shit out of anyone in his way.  The Knicks teams of the early ’90s compromise Riley’s id.  That desire to win by any means necessary without the glam and flashiness of the Lakers is what Riley was all about in the early ’90s.  He wanted to win by any means necessary, regardless if people liked it or not.[3]  While everyone wants to win, the Lakers did it in a more acceptable way as opposed to the Knicks, who did it through brute force and intimidation as opposed to grace and finesse.  If you weren’t from New York, you hated these Knicks because all they wanted to do was win.  They didn’t want to impress anyone or pander to the masses, they wanted to do things their way.

Enter Patrick Ewing.  Here was a star who only wanted to win.  He would often alienate writers and fans because of his cold and impersonal demeanor.  If anyone embodied the Knicks, it was Patrick Ewing with his defensive prowess and heavy-footed style of offense.  If Magic Johnson is Riley’s superego, Patrick Ewing is Riley’s id.  Ewing didn’t have the rings or the MVPs or the style to be loved like Magic was, but he represented the gritty and furious style of play that Riley had long suppressed in LA.

Even though he doesn’t coach anymore, there really shouldn’t be any doubt as to who is the real coach of the Miami Heat: it’s Pat Riley.  The Heat, specifically Lebron James, compose the last part of the trifecta: the ego.  They want to win (the id), but they want to do it in a way that would be adored and accepted (the superego).  But they sometimes lose their balance in handling the two.  Lebron James was loved in Cleveland because, like Magic Johnson, he was what we wanted him to be: a star who didn’t seem desperate to win.  When he left for Miami with designs on winning a championship, he did so by coming into direct conflict with society and how we wanted him to win.  Lebron James, the superego of Pat Riley, tried to accomplish the goals of the id, but did so by coming into direct conflict with the superego.  Even though he did win, it was in a way that we didn’t want him to, it came with hubris and collusion with other superstars.  With the Heat in general Riley has tried to craft a defensively tough team, but one that can be well liked because of who’s on the team and how they play.

Pat Riley has been three different coaches: the flashy superstar with the Lakers, the gritty and tough minded Knicks, and a mixed bastardization of the two with the Heat.  That’s exactly what the idea of the id, ego, and superego is all about—two opposing forces, with a third caught in the middle trying to accommodate to both mandates.  The fact that he’s got 8 championship rings while somehow satisfying all three portions of a subconscious model that may not even be an accurate rendition of the human psyche is astonishing.  Even if it’s not true, and Magic Johnson isn’t the superego, and Ewing isn’t the id, Riley has to be doing something right.


[1] I really love elucidating myself, especially in public.

[2] Example being: Id-I have to shit.  I’m swimming in a pool.  Superego-I have to hold it in until I get to a toilet as that is the only acceptable way to relieve myself.

[3] Come to think about it, Riley’s goal with the Knicks was to make them the most disliked team in the NBA.

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